As Port Harcourt prepared for its tenure as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, Mrs Koko Kalango,

Rainbow Book Club founder and World Book Capital project director, interviewed Elechi Amadi for a commemorative coffee table book titled ‘Port Harcourt by the Book’. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Koko Kalango – What inspires you to write? How much has your work been inspired by this city?

Elechi Amadi – A powerful continual inner urge which is inexplicable. My fourth novel Estrangement is based mainly in Port Harcourt with occasional inroads into the village. My plays Pepper Soup and Dancer of Johannesburg are both based in Port Harcourt and partly in Calabar. In my war diary Sunset in Biafara, Port Harcourt was the scene of many of the memorable incidents. So there is no doubt I am a ‘Port Harcourt Boy’ with very solid roots in the city.

Koko Kalango – As we celebrate the centenary of Port Harcourt, what are your fondest memories of this city?

Elechi Amadi – There was the yearly ‘Accra Dance’. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of youths in very colourful dresses with lots of frills, wearing masks of fine wire gauze and cracking koboko whips danced wildly to the beat of drums. This dance is fully described on page 75 of Estrangement. Then the night outs with my young uncle Peter (alias Chandu), then a budding magician! Having talked my aunt out of a shilling or two, we would first savour some groundnuts; popcorn, suya and guinea fowl eggs and then finally head for the cinema. The two popular cinemas were Rio and Rivoli. I cannot forget the thrill of watching ‘Gentleman Jim’, the exploits of a young middleweight boxer and the swashbuckling ‘Sword of Zorro’ packed with thrilling sword fights. Earlier in the day, I would have ridden children’s bicycles round the fields in Bende Street at 3 pence per hour. To cap all this was the prospect of fresh fish and periwinkle soup with garri which my aunt, a fresh fish trader prepared in the evening.

Koko Kalango – Port Harcourt is UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. What possibilities do you see for the city as a result of this nomination?

Elechi Amadi – Our nomination will certainly elicit the curiosity of book lovers all over the word. They will want to find out why we got the nomination. This curiosity will spill over to our writers who will certainly benefit from the exposure. It will also bring honour and respect to Port Harcourt and Nigeria and hopefully galvanize the government to begin to sponsor literature seriously.

Koko Kalango – What would you want a first time visitor to know about Port Harcourt?

Elechi Amadi – That Port Harcourt was established primarily as a trading outpost for the British colonizers. As a seaport and railway terminal, it was ideally placed to evacuate coal (from Enugu) and palm oil from the hinterland. Port Harcourt was named after Mr. Lewis Harcourt, the then Secretary of State for the colonies.

Koko Kalango – At 80 years, what do you know for sure?

Elechi Amadi – First that Shakespeare was right when he said: ‘‘All the world is a stage and all themen and women, merely players.’’ Secondly, that the most satisfactory life is one spent largely in the service of one’s society. Thirdly, on the accumulation of wealth and material possession, I can declare with certainty in agreement with the preacher that: ‘‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’’

Elechi Amadi receiving an award from then Vice President (Namadi Sambo) at the Garden City Literary Festival 2010
Elechi Amadi at his book launch during the Port Harcourt Book Festival 2013
Elechi Amadi signs autograph on a day set aside to celebrate him during the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 programme
Elechi Amadi and wife (Dr Priye Amadi) at the opening ceremony of the maiden Garden City Literary Festival at the University of Port Harcourt in 2008.